Fashion One Oh One - Christian Dior's New Look

fashion one oh one Christian Dior

Can it already be the FOURTH in the series Fashion One Oh One? Jacqueline of the Hourglass Files has shared stories about the origin of the white wedding dress,  Fortuny and his silk pleated Delphos gown, and Elsa Schiaperelli and her introduction of shoulder pads. 

Today she tells the story of fashion game changer Christian Dior and his New Look that turned the fashion world upside down. 

"Bar" suit  jacket, spring/summer 1947, and skirt, executed in 1969 from 1947 design, both by Christian Dior. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Bar" suit  jacket, spring/summer 1947, and skirt, executed in 1969 from 1947 design, both by Christian Dior. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1947, Christian Dior was in the right place at the right time. World War II had ended two years earlier but most of the world was only beginning its recovery. Dior had financial backing for his first collection designing under his own name. And the fashion tides were ready to change.

Dior named his first collection the Corolle line, but the world came to know it as the New Look, dubbed so by Harper's Bazaar editor Carmel Snow. It was incredibly feminine in contrast to the masculine tailoring that marked the war years. The New Look was the basis for the silhouette Dior would work with for many years.

dress by Christian Dior, 1948-49. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

dress by Christian Dior, 1948-49. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

First, the hemline dropped by 9 inches. Through much of the 1940s, women wore their skirts just below the knee. Dior's collection featured hemlines that were mid-calf length for day.

Second, the sharp padded shoulders of the 1940s were modified into a sloping shape. Still using a shoulder pad, the shoulder became soft and rounded as opposed to angular. 
 

dinner ensemble by Christian Dior, fall/winter 1949/50. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

dinner ensemble by Christian Dior, fall/winter 1949/50. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

The third transformation came at the waist and hip. Corset-like girdles produced a seriously nipped in waist that created an exaggerated hourglass effect. The hips mimicked the shoulders and were actually padded out and stiffened to create a full, round curve. 

And the final element to Dior's New Look was the full skirts he showed in 1947. After rationing during the war years, the opulent use of fabric to create skirts with so much volume seemed criminal to many. Not all of Dior's skirts were so large — some featured pencil shapes — but when they were full they could use up to 49 feet of fabric for a day dress or 82 feet for an evening dress. 

evening dress by Christian Dior, 1952. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

evening dress by Christian Dior, 1952. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

These four components created an hourglass silhouette not seen in fashion design since the mid-nineteenth century. It was romantic, luxurious, and flouted the utility of the war years. Politicians and others hard hit by the war were horrified, magazine editors were raptured, and women in the Western world, starved for feminine fashion and splendor, embraced the New Look. It was the predominant silhouette throughout most on the 1950s. 
 

"May" gown by Christian Dior, spring/summer 1953. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

"May" gown by Christian Dior, spring/summer 1953. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dior's silhouette transformation was crucial to the fashion industry. It breathed new life into Parisian haute couture, which was decimated by the war. The New Look was just the thing to excite the fashion world and revive Paris' reputation as its epicenter. Because of Dior's New Look, haute couture was once again the pinnacle of fashion design and was primed to set trends.

I'm a bit wistful for the days when fashion had such a dramatic and game changing impact on how people dressed. There was time for the impact to reverberate and move from the fashion houses to off-the-rack interpretations for the general public. Time for everyone to take a breath and enjoy the New Look.

And the political statements too - 49 feet for a day dress? 82 feet for an evening dress? Could there be a stronger statement about the deprivations of war? Bring on the luxury!

And although we have many more affordable options through chains like H&M and Zara, I wonder if something has been lost with our ability to acquire and dispose of trends so quickly.

Perhaps having limits on how many outfits we can purchase and a slower turn of trends makes us more thoughtful about what we consume and wear. Less is more.

And maybe we do that naturally. I know that for me, no matter how large my wardrobe, I STILL only end up with a handful of outfits in rotation. I'm forever searching for that perfect wrap or tunic that I can wear many different ways.

I remember a woman I knew years ago who was from the Czech Republic. We were students and had little in the way of disposable income. I'm still astounded by how stylishly and uniquely she dressed with a tiny wardrobe on an even smaller budget. One scarf. One sweater. A shift. A pair of jeans. 

Oh to have that sense of style, eh?